September 9: Young swimmer conquers Lake Ontario


ON THIS DATE 60 years (1954), sixteen-year-old Marilyn Bell (later Di Lascio) became the first person to swim the 32 miles across Lake Ontario, a feat that took 21 hours and 70,000 swim strokes.

Bell Di Lascio at the end of her Lake Ontario swim.

Bell Di Lascio at the end of her Lake Ontario swim.

“That first swim could probably be compared to when the covered wagons were going across the prairies,” Di Lascio told the Toronto Star in 2012. “It was a totally different time, a different world.”

Di Lascio made the journey with the help of a coach in a boat who brought a compass and a flashlight and used a long stick to pass food — baby cereal and corn syrup — to the swimmer.

The Canadian experienced an oblivious triumph on reaching Toronto. She didn’t realize she had completed the swim until she was in the ambulance afterward. But the next day, she received a $10,000 reward and a parade.

 “My husband always told me this from early early on — that swim really changed the way most people or many people looked at what women were capable of,” Di Lascio told the Star. “I never really thought about it until I got much older.”

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